“She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” – Luke 2:37
The focus of the reading in the Gospel this morning really is on the Messiah, Jesus.
This is the main thing Luke is writing about of course: here, and beyond in this book as well….
At the same time, in my own view, if we, in a biblical text, come across things that seem unusual to us – that “stop us in our tracks” a bit…
I think it’s worth taking the time to pause and reflect.
And I think that that is what happens here with Anna. For perhaps, what was not so unusual at all and so was readily understood by Luke and his original audience, is no longer readily understood by us.
What am I referring to?
I am not primarily talking about how this Anna is referred to as a prophetess – even as this is interesting too, because I have not met any people recently referring to themselves or others in such a way…
But I am primarily talking about how Anna’s regular pattern of behavior might seem odd to quite a few of us in many ways….
Again, of her, we read… “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
Who in the world is this woman?
And why does she do what she does?
Perchance, one might respond:
“[Maybe the] key is that she was a widow. Where else would she go? What else would she do? Who does so much work in congregations but widows?”
To be sure, this makes some sense.
And yet, at the same time, why does Luke tell us that she never leaves the temple but worships night and day, fasting and praying?
Truthfully, how many pastors today would encourage elderly parishoners who have time on their hands to do those kinds of things instead of other more “useful” and “practical” actions? (maybe you have heard it, but I’ve never heard it!).
Why not, so long as their basic needs are being met, encourage people like Anna to serve their neighbors in practical ways? Do programs to help the poor and needy in the neighborhood and things like this? Maybe join the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League and do work promoting overseas missions?
Quite honestly, I think many of us hear about Anna and what she does – what she is in fact clearly commended for – and we don’t know what in the world to do with her…
Is she perhaps confused about God’s will, and trying to be saved by her piety? Earning her way into God’s good graces?
Anna, why do you pray and fast so much? Don’t you know that with this Christ child you are meeting today, the message is “rest”!
Don’t you know that God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does?
Really, why would Luke, being guided by the Holy Spirit, focus on lifting up and giving honor to a life characterized by these particular habits and behaviors?
Before talking more about Anna and the specific things she is commended for here, let’s talk about this:
What else do we learn about prayer and fasting in the book of Luke?
Of fasting, we must admit, not much else.
In fact, in the book of Luke people specifically come to Jesus asking why His disciples, unlike the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, do not fast.
Jesus’ response indicates that there are indeed times for fasting, but there are times for feasting as well, when, for example, the bridegroom – that is Him – is with the wedding guests.
So… while Jesus is with His disciples, they will not fast, which is identified as a sign of sorrow and repentance, but they will rejoice and feast!
Overall though, outside the book of Luke, Scripture does help fill us in on the significance of fasting in the Christian life.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his disciples not to fast to impress others: “When you fast,” He says, don’t make it obvious to others you are fasting – and then your “Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…”
We might also think here about how the Apostle Paul speaks about how, he, like a good athlete trying to win a race, “discipline[es] [his] body and keep[s] it under control” (I Cor. 9:27), or even how in I Corinthians 7[i] he urges the Christians there to be “those [people] who use the things of the world [while not being] engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”
Paul’s statements here perhaps help us get why Martin Luther said fasting is also training for the body, “fine outward training.”
Here, the idea is that our body can remind our soul that our first hunger should always be for God and His word even as fasting also teaches us to deny ourselves even essential things like food for a while.
So one commentator says that “Anna,” for example, “represents the physically and spiritually hungry whom God promises to fill with good things (1:53)” (Garland, 137).
And fasting, of course, also has the added benefit of making it possible for you to share more of God’s earthly necessities and blessings with others as well….
Finally, perhaps one of the more important things about fasting to remember these days is this:
If Christian persecution arises, it will help you to be better prepared, giving you confidence that you can indeed go without even essential things for a limited amount of time.
Your faith, mind, and body will all be more likely to agree with one another that, with the Lord, you’ll be able to handle whatever may come.[ii]
Now, what of prayer?
First of all, we learn some very interesting things about prayer in the book of Luke.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is, to be sure, a man of prayer. Even a “prayer warrior,” a term I heard from evangelical Christian friends in college.
We see that, interestingly, he often went to deserted places (4:42). Luke 5:15 and 16 says this, in fact:
“…the news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
So, we see here, at times, many, many people wanted to hear Jesus and be healed.
…and yet, He did not run towards them, but away from them: In fact, it was at times like this, we are told, that He went into the wilderness, or “lonely places” and prayed (see Luke 9:18 also).
And shortly after that passage in Luke 5:16, we are told that the day before Jesus calls His disciples He went to the mountain to pray, “and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12).
In chapter 11, He teaches His disciples, at their request, how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer. And as He gives them this great prayer, He also encourages persistence in praying for needs by means of illustrations.
Jesus says that we know that when we ask our friends for favors – particularly when it is to help us provide hospitality to unexpected guests from out of town – that our friends, even if they don’t want to, will nevertheless help us, and even at times that are “inopportune and bothersome” (like at midnight).
God is saying that because of our shamelessness in asking Him for help, we will get what we need.
Likewise, fathers give their children the things that they need when they ask for good gifts. Your Heavenly Father will do the same…
And in Luke 18, in case we didn’t get the point, we hear about a widow, who merely because of her abject persistence and stubbornness, is able to get an unjust judge to give her justice versus her adversary.
The message is that if justice can be attained from an unjust judge by persistence, how much more will God give His people deliverance?
More specifically, that parable ends with Jesus saying:
“Will [God] keep putting [His chosen ones] off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”[iii]
Also, when the book of Luke gives examples of people calling out to God besides Jesus, it is also illustrative.
There is the well-known story of the blind beggar in Jericho who cries out to Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And how about the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? Here, standing before God, the Pharisee has the nerve to exalt himself and his deeds (like his fasting twice a week!)… while the Tax Collector beats his breast and says “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Luke says the tax collector “went home justified before God…”
And right in the beginning of Luke, we see people praying in ways that almost seem like they have been given lines from a musical
…and their own prayers remind us about where the real focus should always be, namely, our good Lord who dies for our sins and leads us in prayer (Luke 11)
…that we might watch with Him (Luke 22:39-46),
…that we too might anticipate His coming … And that we might have the strength needed to endure the last days leading up to His glorious reappearing… (Luke 21:36).
And so Mary says:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant…”
Zechariah notes that the Messiah will:
“…rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
And of course, the old man Simeon:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
In short, “I can die in peace now Lord…”
Presumably, when all of these great examples of faith pray, such words actually pour forth spontaneously from them… as naturally as can be….
A Christian life might began by simply crying out to God in desperation for salvation, but it doesn’t end there…
So now then, let’s finally talk a little bit more about Anna.
The text is stressing her great age, her interesting life, and her devotion to God….[iv]
It seems that if she married at age 14 – a real possibility in those days – she would have been as old as the intertestamental character Judith, 105 years old (Jdt. 16:23) – from the Apocrypha – who also “did not remarry after her husband’s death and is presented as a figure of honour for this reason (Jdt. 8:4-8; 16:22f; cf. 1 Cor. 7:7f; I Tim. 5:5, 19)” (Marshall, 123-124)[v]
And what is the significance of her being a prophetess? Almost certainly in this context it has to do with the fact that she possesses divine insight into things others don’t have, based in part on her knowledge of the Scriptures, and in part on a unique spiritual gift.[vi]
What about her never departing from the Temple? Some suggest that Anna lived in the Temple, and was actually a caretaker there. That may or may not have been true… We just don’t know.
She also might have simply lived nearby the Temple, and made a point of it to be present whenever the prayers were offered, which, in her time, was three times day: in the morning, in the afternoon (the “ninth hour” [Acts 3:1] or 3 o-clock our time), and at evening.
The language of “never departed” might then be hyperbolic in a sense, but one thing is for sure: Anna was a very pious and prayerful woman… and one whose life demands our respect…
And, interestingly, we see that Anna also fulfills the words that the Apostle Paul says about widows in I Timothy, chapter 5. She is one who “puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help….”[vii]
That advice, of course, is not only good for widows, but for all of us.
And we all have people that we look up to and want to be like — that we want to model and imitate. Anna is such a person!
Now, when I was young, one such person many wanted to be like was the basketball player, Michael Jordan.
I can still remember the popular Gatorade commercial:
“Like Mike… I like to be like Mike… I wanna be like Mike…”
There is nothing wrong with being a gifted basketball player to be sure. And I identified with the popular comment someone made about the commercial which you can find at You Tube. This person said: “And just for a minute, while listening to this song everything in the world seems right. So glad I grew up in 90s…”
But all that said, a person like Anna ought to catch our eye all the more…
So preacher, you might be asking, “How are you doing with this?”
Well, truth be told, my evaluation of my own prayer life is that I have a long way to go. A very long way.
I am often distracted from prayer, even as I recognize its importance in the Christian life. Instead of praying, you’ll find me arguing with people on social media, listening to podcasts or articles I’ve turned into audio files, or telling myself I’m too busy with work or other essential tasks to carve out time to simply pray.
When I pray, it’s often on the run, and I’ve taken much solace in the idea I heard some years ago from, of all people, a Christian rock group: the words “help” and “thanks” are some of the best prayers. If prayer is “breath,” as they say, that’s the way to breathe: “help…thanks…help… thanks..”
And yet, in spite of myself, it’s indeed my charge to urge on you not just the message that God forgives you in Jesus Christ – which He does daily! – but the whole counsel of God.
A few weeks ago, in our Epistle reading, we heard he Apostle Paul urge us to “pray continually” or “without ceasing”. Maybe you remember that, though, at the time, I didn’t preach on it.
I think now, however, is a great time to reflect on that. Just how should we look at this passage? This command to pray?
I think the key thing is this: if we are Christians, we will find that sometimes prayer comes very naturally and is indeed very simple. Hence in our Epistle reading this morning we hear that because we have received adoption to sonship, “God sent the Spirit of His Son into our heart, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’” Paul expands on this in Romans 8:
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children….
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
So Paul says that the Spirit leads us to prayer, and that sometimes, our prayers are not even really words, but just groans. A longing for our full redemption in Christ.
And all this can also remind us of another passage from I Thessalonians:
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
Again, the Spirit works prayer in us, leading us to cry out to Him.
And yet, at the same time, this doesn’t prevent the Apostle Paul from also urging us and encouraging us: “[You all…] pray continually”!
He’s telling us this is going to involve some effort on our part – Spirit-led though to be sure…[viii]
Let’s look at the wider context of that I Thessalonians 5 passage again too. Paul says:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.[ix]
And so here, we see that Paul’s command to “pray continually” is nestled between two key ideas: We are also those who he urges to be full of joy, or rejoicing, always, and those he urges to give thanks always… this being God’s will for us in Christ Jesus!
God wants us to be powerful in prayer, and these are the keys![x]
So, should such a passage like this condemn us or encourage us?
Well, it does both, doesn’t it?
On the one hand, how can we not be judged by the words “pray without ceasing”?
Insofar as I am a sinner – and we all still are – I have not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. I have not called upon God’s Name “in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks”, as Martin Luther says in his explanation of the second commandment “you shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God”.
No, I have not put off the “old man” and put on the new man when it comes to these things, but have instead often fed and nurtured that “old Adam”….
And yet, what does Luther remind us in his explanation of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who are in heaven”? He says:
“With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father…”
And this, I think gives us the context that we really need to understand what is going on here…
I think this is the real kind of teaching we need to understand in order to pull through and continue to urge ourselves on to pray even when the feeling isn’t there, when we feel distant from God, like we aren’t getting through… when, perhaps in the midst of real suffering… the desire to pray just isn’t there…
Get behind me Satan!
We can all understand the truth that Luther is bringing to us!
[Questioning] Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you?
Correct me if I am wrong, but the phrase “pray continually” also tells me, in part, that God actually enjoys hearing from me. Constantly.
I get the impression He is even eager to hear from me – all the time. I am just not an annoyance to Him, like I might be with others.
To say the least, as much as I would like to say the opposite, I am not like that with my own kids.
And if God has told us to ask Him for a castle, for example – if our Father has commanded us to pray and pray like this… and He has – why should we not take Him up on it?
Isaiah 57:15 says:
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
Truly, God is here with us now!
And so we say “Thank you Lord.”
And “See if there is any offensive way in [us], and lead [us] in the way everlasting.” Shine your searchlight on our lives…
And Lord, we thank you that you forgive us all of our sins through the gift of your Son Jesus Christ.
And still we say: we are so needy God! And so are all of our neighbors! Hear us, and let us be ever satisfied in You…
And, if some don’t feel like they can pray… always discouraged because perhaps they have been tragically deprived of the care of a loving father… they can at least start by remembering how wonderful it is sometimes to just have a pleasant conversation with a good friend who they admire and respect!
In a sense, prayer is indeed simply talking with God. And you can talk to Him in just the same way you can talk to a friend you love and respect…
There’s a lot more to say about this topic. There is a lot more to learn about this topic. And yet, right now, I’m telling you this:
Like Anna. I want to be like Anna.
How about you?
[i] This is interesting to compare with what Paul says in I Cor. 7 about the marital duties husbands and wives have towards one another:
“….since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”
A few observations: first, it is clear that Paul does expect fallen human beings in marriages to take his advice. Why “advice”? Well, we note the differences in this passage: here Paul explicitly says that what he says here is a concession and not a command per se. Furthermore, note that later on in I Cor. 7, he goes on to say: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”
Luther handles the passage this way:
“Christians should treasure that eternal blessing which is theirs in the faith, despising this life so that they do not sink too deeply into it either with love and desire or suffering and boredom, but should rather behave like guests on earth, using everything for a short time because of need and not for pleasure. This would mean having a wife as though I did not have one, when in my heart I would rather remain unmarried but in order to avoid sin have found it necessary to have one. But he who seeks not necessity but also desire, he does not have a wife but is himself possessed by a wife. A Christian should hold to this principle also in all other things. He should only serve necessity and not be a slave to his lust and nurture his old Adam.”
[ii] Interestingly, the commentator Green writes: “Fasting constitutes a form of protest, an assertion that all is not well.”
In a way, this makes sense, because we live in a fallen world. He writes of Anna in particular:
“…in this eschatologically charged narrative environment… [her fasting] is an expression of her hope, a form of prayer entreating God to set things right…”
One wonders if even in an un-fallen world though there might be a role for fasting, going along with things like discipline, effort, satisfaction in a job well done, etc.
[iii] The greater immediate context:
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
[iv] There are so many interesting tidbits about here as well. Here are a few of the very helpful things I learned about her, thanks to the older (and excellent) collected commentaries on Biblehub.com:
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:
“She is named, as if it were a well-known fact, as having been the wife of Phanuel, and she is not of the tribe of Judah, but of Aser. That tribe, then, though belonging to the Ten that had been carried into exile by Shalmaneser (2Kings 17:6), had not been altogether lost. Some, at least, of its members survived and cherished the genealogies of their descent, as one family of the neighbouring tribe of Naphthali are said to have done at Nineveh (Tobit 1:2). In that family also we find the name of Anna (Tobit 1:9).”
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:
“…of the tribe of Aser—one of the ten tribes, of whom many were not carried captive, and not a few reunited themselves to Judah after the return from Babylon. The distinction of tribes, though practically destroyed by the captivity, was well enough known up to their final dispersion (Ro 11:1; Heb 7:14); nor is it now entirely lost.”
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:
“A widow of about fourscore and four years.—The better MSS. read, “up to the point of fourscore and four years,” pointing to the fact that this was the duration of her widowhood. Assuming her to have been married at fifteen, this places her actual age at 106. She had lived through the whole century that preceded the birth of Christ, from the death of John Hyrcanus, and had witnessed, therefore, the conquest of Judæa by Pompeius, and the rise of the Herodian house.”
“Night and day – Continually – that is, at the usual times of public worship and in private. When it is said that she departed not from the temple, it is meant that she was “constant” and “regular” in all the public services at the temple, or was never absent from those services. God blesses those who wait at his temple gates.”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“In Exodus 38:8 we read of women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: both the Targums of Onkelos and Ben Uzziel render it, “who came to pray”; and the Septuagint version, “that fasted”: Anna did both.”
“νύκτα κ. ἡμέρ.] Thus also at Acts 26:7; Mark 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:5. Elsewhere the order is inverted. Instances of both arrangements may be seen in Bornemann, Schol. p. 27; Lobeck, Paralip. p. 62 f., and from the Latin: Heindorf on Horat. Sat. i. 1. 77. In this place νύκτα, is prefixed in order, as in Acts, l.c., and 1 Timothy 5:5, to make the fervency of the pious temple-service the more prominent. The case is otherwise, where it is simply a question of definition of time, at Esther 4:15.”
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:
“…departed not] She was present (that is) at all the stated hours of prayer; unless we suppose that her position as a Prophetess had secured her the right of living in one of the Temple chambers, and perhaps of doing some work for it like trimming the lamps (as is the Rabbinic notion about Deborah, derived from the word Lapidoth ‘splendours’).
fastings] The Law of Moses had only appointed one yearly fast, on the Great Day of Atonement. But the Pharisees had adopted the practice of ‘fasting twice in the week,’ viz. on Monday and Thursday, when Moses is supposed to have ascended, and descended from, Sinai (see on Luke 18:12), and had otherwise multiplied and extended the simple original injunction (v. 33).
prayers] Rather, supplications (a more special word).”
“Verse 37. – Which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Probably, in virtue of her reputation as a prophetess, some small chamber in the temple was assigned to her. This seems to have been the case with Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22). It has also been suggested that she lovingly performed some work in or about the sacred building. Farrar suggests such as trimming the lamps (as is the rabbinic notion about Deborah), derived from the word lapidoth, splendor. Such sacred functions were regarded among all nations as a high honor. The great city of Ephesus boasted her name of νεωκόρος, temple-sweeper, as her proudest title to honor.”
From other commentaries:
“There is no place where God hath had a name, but, however it be corrupted and debauched, hath a number that keep close to God. God in Ahab’s time had seven thousand in Israel; and in this most corrupt time there was a Simeon and an Anna, and also others, who had a true notion and expectation of the Messiah; and these the Holy Ghost taketh more notice of than of all the Jewish doctors, all the scribes and Pharisees, whose names are enrolled, while what these persons said and did shall remain for a memorial of them wherever the gospel shall be preached to the end of the world.”
[v] As the commentator Green puts it: “…she exemplifies the ascetic ideal of marrying once and devoting oneself entirely to God in widowhood” (Gospel of Luke, Green, 151)
[vi] More notes on this:
(36)” One Anna, a prophetess.—The fact is in many ways remarkable. We find a woman recognised as a prophetess at a time when no man is recognised as a prophet. She bears the name of the mother of the founder of the School of the Prophets, identical with that which the legends of Apocryphal Gospels assign to the mother of the Virgin.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
[vii] A bit more of the context there: “3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
[viii] Doesn’t God give us everything we need in Christ? Doesn’t God give to us His grace freely, and gifts of grace freely? Why then, are we talking about things that might seem to involve some effort, that might seem to include building up habits, that we might, somedays, just not feel like doing?
If these things are spiritually real after all – if we are to be fully authentic in our Christian spirituality – shouldn’t all of these things just come naturally to us? Spontaneously?
I remember telling a friend that I wanted to get to the point where sharing my faith would be more natural for me. He replied by saying, “there is nothing natural about sharing your faith… you’ll never get there.”
I do indeed still think that sharing our faith should be something that is pretty natural for us. If we have known the love of God in Jesus Christ, which eagerly forgives us all our sins and adopts us into the Kingdom of God, this is going to be something that affects us and that we can talk about to some degree, however haltingly.
On the one hand, he was perhaps a bit right. Some effort in doing such things will always be involved…
In Luke 8:15 we read: 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
He gives us a noble and good heart of faith, and then also gives us the power to use it…. Key here also is what is said just three verses later:
“…take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seem to have will be taken from him.”
[ix] Robert I Estienne was the French classics scholar and printer Who divided the Bible up into verses in the late 16th century, and I like what he did here, making that short statement into three whole verses:
I Thessalonians 5:16 is “Rejoice always”.
Verse 17 is “Pray continually” (or “without ceasing”).
And verse 18, is “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
[x] And note that in this passage from Matthew 17 we see that prayer and fasting is connected with spiritual power:
14And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, 15“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is [c]an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
17Then Jesus answered and said, “O [d]faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” 18And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.
19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
20So Jesus said to them, “Because of your [e]unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21[f]However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
And in Luke 4, when Jesus begins his ministry, people are astonished by Jesus’ teaching because “His word was with authority”. And in the midst of this teaching, that conviction grows stronger, for instance, when a man who has “a spirt if of an unclean” demon confronts Jesus even in the synagogue as he is preaching.
And what does Jesus do? He confronts the demon in the man, rebuking it “Be quiet and come out of him!”. Then we read that the people are even more impressed than before, saying “with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” (see 4:31-37)
Again, how much does the issue of prayer and fasting, I wonder, has much to do with the topic of spiritual warfare? (and regarding this, we don’t want to see a demon behind every bush, but we also do not want to laugh such things off…)
Just because the devil isn’t so overt here in America what with possessions and the like, it doesn’t mean that he is not hard at work among us, undermining God’s truth.
We should struggle and fight to excel in the battle here. That said: some get nervous when we talk this way…
“Who is the greatest?” We know we are not supposed to jostle for position in the Kingdom of God.
And yet, we are human beings, and it will happen.
And evidently, too, this is not an entirely bad thing either! After all, Jesus does say, for example, about John the Baptist, “among those born to women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)
All of us are pretty familiar with what earthly authority and power looks like, and how it works… What of this kind of authority and power though? And where does it come from? (must read Harold Ristau’s book here again…).
Is it not more likely that those who exercise such authority and power have lives that are somewhat similar to Anna’s, those characterized by prayer and fasting? Certainly, this is likely the case…
This, I believe, is a firmly Scriptural way of looking at and addressing these matters. Some though, find all of this talk very hard to understand…